By BRUCE DENNILL
Joburg Ballet: Cinderella / Artistic Director: Iain MacDonald / The Teatro at Montecasino, Fourways, Johannesburg
Joburg Ballet, to live up to its company name, needs to reach audiences all around the city, something they manage to some degree with their development programmes in Alexandra and elsewhere while still staging their productions at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein, their base as designated by long-standing deals with sponsors including the City of Joburg and others.
Runs like ths one at the Teatro, far to the north of Braamfontein and more easily in reach for audiences from a range of suburbs in the north of Johannesburg as well as ballet fans from Pretoria, offer an opportunity to grow the audience for local ballet talent (as opposed to the occasional Russian or other international touring production) and for the Joburg Ballet company to perform for a crowd comprised less of their stalwart followers – a large and loyal group – than is the case at their home base.
It’s not only in the stalls that the difference is felt. The Mandela stage at the Joburg Theatre is a cavernous space where the depth adds scale, but often at the expense of intimacy. Designer Andrew Botha’s set looked great when this version of Cinderella – featuring choreography from Iain MacDonald – was last put on at the Joburg Theatre in 2016. But it looks considerably better in the Teatro – the colours are more striking, the detail more evident – where the layers are positioned closer together and, rather than looking cluttered, the ballrooms and dusty kitchens feel more to scale and realistic.
This leaves the company with less space in which to dance, but though that is a challenge for the the artists, it increases the clarity with which the performers’ faces, and the expressions with which they guide viewers through the narrative, can be seen. MacDonald’s choreography feels punchier and more vibrant in this setting, too, the movements he requires perhaps more focused in a smaller space.
The opening night cast set a high bar for the run, with the ensemble pieces including a number of soloists and senior soloists alongside the corps de ballet and so mixing experience and flair with enthusiasm and vigour. Principal dancer Shannon Glover is generally as strong an actress as she is a dancer, and she continues in that vein as the title character, clearly wearing her hurt, joy, hope and concern on her face as the famous fairytale plays out. She never allows her concentration to dip, either, with the final pas de deux probably the most challenging choreography of the whole show and Glover, along with Ruan Galdino – an excellent partner and not thrown at all by the large number of strength elements packed into a that concluding segment.
Claudia Monja looks stately and sophisticated as the Fairy Godmother, with the same adjectives applying to Kitty Phetla as Cinderella’s stepmother, though she adds a sneering disdain to her character that makes the woman very difficult to like – as it should be, in the context.
As the ugly stepsisters, arguably the plum roles in the piece, Keke Chele (as Carla) and Chase Bosch (as Carla) steal every scene they’re in, going waaaaay over the top in their first scene and steadily building from there. Bosch in particular is outstanding, hamming it up with the same intensity and control that Sacha Baron Cohen puts into Borat.
The relatively compact context of this production is balanced by the simplicity of the version of the Cinderella story that is told: her family goes shopping; the Prince’s father sets up a ball to try and connect his son with a suitable match; the stepmother and sisters return home to receive their invitations and Cinderella becomes aware that there may be a magical way out of her situation. Act One, done. Act Two: the ball happens; Cinderella loses her slipper; the Prince travels the kingdom to find his mystery lady and there is a happy ending at the wedding. It’s simple and lean, and there’s no room for the audience’s attention to wander or wane.
Trimmed, tweaked and tightly controlled, this is the best version of Joburg Ballet’s Cinderella that has yet been staged.